Last week, as a grim dawn crept into a bleak Vendéean field, we started planting the first lettuce of the season on our farm in France. After a little sun, it was dry enough to set up the cloche-style mini tunnels that will protect the plants from the worst of the frost, wind and rain. All being well, these green Batavia lettuces will be in your boxes in early April, as we enter the depths of the UK hungry gap.
Last spring, gripped by an irrational enthusiasm and optimism, I decided to plant 5000 loofahs. I, like most, had assumed these sponge-like exfoliants once found in any self respecting middle class bathroom were harvested from a coral reef. When I found one hanging in a Spanish greenhouse and discovered they were, in fact an over mature cucumber relative, I was intrigued; when various wacky Californian websites suggested they would grow in the Vendée I became obsessed and before my staff could restrain me, 5000 plants were ordered. To my delight, they grew like weeds, clambering over the peppers, wrapping themselves around the greenhouse steels and dangling from the roof.
As the fruits mature the flesh dries out and, after removing the skin and seeds (a highly satisfying process), you are left with the skeletal fibre of a loofah. Sadly only 10% reached this stage, making the project a financial disaster. Why couldn’t I do a small trial like a sensible adult? Idiot. Thankfully there’s only one of me and at 53 I’m finally learning the folly of indulging untamed impatience.
On the plus side, I’m still using that loofah I found in Spain and am certainly seeing a difference. If you feel inclined to ease my humiliation, need exfoliation or fancy a small, child-friendly project (peeling the skin and shaking out the seeds), you can buy this rustic addition to your bathroom from next week for £3, which includes a £1 donation to our charity partner, Send a Cow.